Scientists Detect Coldest Temperature Ever Recorded On Earth's Surface

The high flat and cold environment of the Antarctic Plateau at Dome C. Credit Wikimedia Commons

The high flat and cold environment of the Antarctic Plateau at Dome C. Credit Wikimedia Commons

That honour mosts likely to scientists at Russia's Vostok Terminal, likewise on the East Antarctic Plateau, that determined the temperature level as minus 89 levels Celsius (minus 128 levels Fahrenheit) in July 1983.

Researchers from the University of Boulder Colorado discovered the low temperatures after analyzing data from several Earth-observing satellites rather than relying on weather stations.

Using the difference between the satellite measurements of the lowest surface snow temperatures at Vostok and three automated stations, and the air temperatures at the same place and time, they inferred that the air temperatures at the very coldest sites (where no stations exist) are probably around minus 94 degrees Celsius (minus 137 degrees Fahrenheit). But weather stations can't measure temperatures everywhere.

The new low point is officially minus 98 degrees Celsius (minus 144 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature that "appears to be about as low as it is possible to reach" according to the global team of researchers who worked on the new study.

The team collected data from the Southern Hemisphere's winter season between 2004 and 2016.

Five years ago, a group of scientists conducted a sophisticated temperature mapping study to find that the snowy East Antarctic Plateau, which encompasses the South Pole, is the coldest place on Earth. As per the scientists, in order to reach this temperature, the sky must be clear and the light dry wind is necessary.

According to the scientists, led by Ted Scambos of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, this is about as cold as it is possible to get at Earth's surface.

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Previously, scientists had thought that temperatures there could "only" drop to about 135 below. The new results, however, indicate that the air must also be extremely dry, because water vapor traps heat in the air. (1.8 to 2.7 m) deep within the ice.

Temperatures of 144 degrees below zero are about as cold as it is possible to get at Earth's surface, according to the researchers. This allows the surface, and the air above it, to cool still further, until the clear, calm, and dry conditions break down and the air mixes with warmer air higher in the atmosphere. This gives the researchers a better idea of the surface temperature at the time in Antarctica.

Interestingly, even though the coldest sites were spread out over hundreds of kilometers, the lowest temperatures were all almost the same.

The study titled "Ultra‐low surface temperatures in East Antarctica from satellite thermal infrared mapping: the coldest places on Earth" was published June 25 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

How cold can it get? The obvious explanation is that this is, in fact, the coldest it can get on the plateau.

Sure enough, they found about a hundred little pockets of exceptional cold scattered across the highest parts of the ice sheet. After the temperature drops below a certain point, the air cools so slowly that it can't get perceptibly colder before the weather conditions change, according to the researchers. This very low-temperature air allows the snow in these hollows to radiate even more heat, allowing for the extraordinarily low ground temperature.

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